New Song: Reckless Love

There has been some controversy about the song, “Reckless Love” by Cory Asbury.  It’s gotten a lot of radio play and churches all over the country are singing it, but as one blogger wrote, “God’s Love is not Reckless, Contrary to What you Might Sing.”  Like I said, there is some controversy.  The blogger in question claims that God is not reckless in his plan of salvation, but was intentional from the beginning.  And, he has a literal, theological point.  God does have a plan to bring salvation to his people and he has been working out that plan since the Fall.  What the blogger misses, is that scripture talks about the gospel being “foolishness”.  So I think we can all agree that God’s love is not reckless in the sense of being “irresponsible”, but I think we can also agree that God’s love is perceived to be foolish by the outside world!  As 1 Cor 1:18 & 25 says,

“…the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God”…and…”the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”

Paul is taking the negative word “foolishness” and using it as a positive for God.  I find it interesting that the song writer, Cory Asbury, is famous for using the same kind of dramatic language that turns the meanings of negative words on their heads.  And he isn’t the only one!  Back in the ’90s, Rich Mullins sang about the “the reckless raging fury that they call the love of God.”  So when we sing about the “reckless love of God” we are singing that to an outsider, God’s love seems foolish and brash, but in fact “the foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of men.”  Let’s jump into verse one…

Verse 1:
Before I spoke a word, You were singing over me

You are my hiding place;
you will protect me from trouble
and surround me with songs of deliverance. -Psalm 32

You have been so, so good to me

Psalm 13:6 (NLT) I will sing to the LORD because He is good to me.

Before I took a breath, You breathed Your life in me

I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord. -Ezekiel 37:6

As I look at the song, I’m not sure if the songwriter is talking about speaking and breathing in terms of being born as a baby or in terms of our rebirth in Christ.  In light of the gospel message in the song, I like to think of it in terms of our salvation.  Psalm 32 is written to believers and Ezekiel also seems to indicate that the breath, or Spirit of God, comes into us at salvation and then we have true life.  That is God’s kindness…

You have been so, so kind to me

Psalms 117:2 For His lovingkindness is great toward us, and the truth of the Lord is everlasting. Praise the Lord!

Chorus:
Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God

Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.Romans 5:7-8

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. -1 Corinthians 1:18

Oh, it chases me down, fights ’til I’m found, leaves the ninety-nine

This is the heart of the song.  The gospel message.  Jesus left heaven to find us even though we didn’t deserve and couldn’t earn salvation on our own.  Jesus said in Luke 15:3-5

“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders…”

I couldn’t earn it, and I don’t deserve it, still, You give Yourself away

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. -Romans 3:23

Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God
I hope we experience that as we sing and in our whole life!  Moving onto verse two where the writer elaborates on where we were when God saved us…we were God’s foe and full of sin…
Verse 2:
When I was Your foe, still Your love fought for me
You have been so, so good to me

For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! -Romans 5:10

When I was in sin, You paid it all for me
You have been so, so kind to me

…the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. -Mark 10:45

Bridge:
There’s no shadow You won’t light up
Mountain You won’t climb up
Coming after me
There’s no wall You won’t kick down
Lie You won’t tear down
Coming after me
Here we have references to John 1:4-5, Psalm 139:7-12, Ephesians 2:13-15, and John 8:32, but the main message is simple.  God came to seek the lost and that is anyone who believes.  Not only that, he is pursuing us today and every day of our lives.

“…the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” –Luke 19:10

Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life…-Psalm 23:6a

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Worship is War

All of life is worship, but how is worship a declaration of war?  What other things are going to war for our heart, souls, minds and strengths?  What is the connection with allegiance?  We walk and talk this week about how worship is war.

Speak Lord, I’m Listening…

I talk too much and listen too little.  It’s always been a struggle for me.

Proverbs says to speak before listening is a folly and shame (18:3) and let me tell you, I’ve lived it.  Even now, as a guy in mid-life, I struggle to listen because I like the sound of my own voice.  But as I’ve reflected on it, I don’t think I’m alone.  We have one sided conversations all the time.  We wait until the other person stops talking so we can say our piece.  (SIDENOTE:  That is not a real conversation. 😉  That’s a monologue!)

But my namesake, the prophet Samuel, was able to listen, at least in the story we have of him as a boy.  He hears a voice in the middle of the night.  And that might have seemed a bit creepy, right?  So he runs to the adult, Eli, and asks him if he was calling.  Like most adults who get awakened by young children in the middle of the night, Eli groaned and said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.”  It happened a second time and this time, Eli, who probably felt like he had just fallen back to sleep, said, “I did not call; go back and lie down!” (emphasis mine!).  The third time, Eli figures out what is going on and tells the small boy to say one line:  ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’

What strikes me now, is that Eli and Samuel know who they are speaking too and their place in the conversation.  They are speaking to the Lord.  The Mighty One.  The God who speaks and summons.  They are the servants who listen and respond.

I want to be more like Samuel.  So I put together this short “found poem” from the psalms to help me remember to listen first and speak later…

‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’

The Mighty One, God, the Lord,

speaks and summons the earth

from the rising of the sun to where it sets.

From Zion, perfect in beauty,

God shines forth.

Our God comes

and will not be silent

One thing God has spoken,

    two things I have heard:

“Power belongs to you, God,

    and with you, Lord, is unfailing love”

I will listen to what God the Lord says;

he promises peace to his people, his faithful servants—

but let them not turn to folly.

‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’

-from 1 Samuel 3:9, Psalm 50, 62, 85

For This Child I Have Prayed…

Isn’t it funny how our lives, and history itself, move in circles?  Names and stories trigger memories and we see meanings emerge that we were blind to before.

As I think about my name, “Samuel”, and as I read the story of his mother, written thousands of years ago, I notice that my wife had a similar experience to my own mother who had a similar experience to Hannah.

I obviously don’t remember, but my Mom and Dad struggled to have a child for 4 years.  She’s told me that she longed to be a mother and never dreamed, when she was married, that it would be that hard.  Both of my parents continued to pray for a baby and I was born in a doctor’s office in the hills of western Pennsylvania.  They named me Samuel because, like Hannah, they prayed for a child.  That is what “Samuel” means.

Years later, Sara and I were in a similar situation, but we knew that there was no biological way for us to have kids.  So we prayed and pursued adoption.  God gave us a baby girl.  We named her Eliana, which means, “my God has answered”.

So this week, as we approach Mother’s Day, I’m thinking about Hannah, Samuel’s mother, who lived thousands of years ago.

First off, I’m reminded that the Lord gives and the Lord takes away.  He is a loving Father who cares for us even when it doesn’t feel that way and we don’t understand what is going on.  I have lived in the tension multiple times in my life.  Infertility.  Cancer.  The death of a child.  But it’s true.  Job is the one who first said this, but it’s true.  Blessed be His Name.

I also see that people will misunderstand you, adding to the pain of your experience.  Eli, a priest of God, thought Hannah was drunk when he saw her praying to God.  People told Sara and I that we were too stressed and needed to take a weekend away with a bottle of wine to make things happen.  We laugh about it now, but, people will mis-understand you.

Even when that happens, bring your pain and anguish to the Lord in prayer.  That’s my third thought.  Whatever you are going through, bring your pain and anguish to the Lord.  For a woman who desires to be a mother, this is deeper than I know.  But God hears you when you call.  God hears.  God answers.

Lastly, I am incredibly thankful for the example of these amazing Godly women.  Hannah prayed, trusting that God would answer her prayer.  And THEN, she fulfilled her vow, giving her little son back to the Lord.  Incredible.  My mom prayed to the Lord for a baby and I was born.  Since then, I have watched her continue to live a life of faith, even in the midst of hard times and hard questions.  My own wife has also showed me what deep faith looks like.  She also struggled, prayed and continues to do so.

Isn’t it funny how our lives, and history itself, move in circles?  Names and stories trigger memories and we see meanings emerge that we were blind to before.  As I think about my name, Samuel, I realize that it’s a reminder of the faith of women throughout history who have taken their pain to God and afterwards said,

“For this child I have prayed”.

 

Who Is Worship For? – Prt 2

Last time, I wrote about God as our primary audience.  And that is true, God is our primary audience.  That being said, there is another audience in any worship gathering!  You.  Me.  We are second audience when we come to worship.

Now I have to confess something.  I have been the person who has said things like, “We should sing more about who God is!”  or “This song is so man-centered!”  Now, those things are true and sound very spiritual, but the other truth is that part of the reason we get together is to encourage each other by singing!  Colossians 3:16 says,

Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.

And in Ephesians 5:19

speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord,

So the Bible tells us that the church is an audience for worship and that one of the reasons we get together to worship is to encourage each other.  The Spirit of God in you speaks to me and brings encouragement in the middle of the trials of life.

When I was going through cancer, I needed people to sing for me.  I would try to stand and sing, but too many times I was too weak.  I would stand in the back with tears streaming down my face and listen to God’s people sing.  I’m ashamed to admit that it took that long for me to realize this.  There are many people who come to church who are struggling to sing.  They might look on the outside as if they are angry or un-engaged, but the reality is that they are struggling.  They need other believers to sing to them.

This is one of the ways we share our testimony of faith.  No matter the words on the screen, we are communicating that God is always worthy of praise and we have found him to be faithful.

Who knows…that might be you or me down the road.  We might be the people who need to hear someone else sing God’s praises.

“In his resurrection [Jesus] conquered the results of sin—which is death—so that death is not the last word written over our life.”

-Robert E. Webber, The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life

7 Cancer Lessons

Once again, I will be sitting in the doctor’s office looking through the blinds at people in cars passing by as their lives raced ahead of them.  The steps and muffled sounds of nurses and doctor’s will filter through the door.  Then my heart will starting to race and I will identify what is happening to me…

It will be fear.

It’s been 13 years since that April 5th when I was diagnosed with Stage 3 testicular cancer.  In those first days and weeks, I knew fear intimately as an evil twin who was trying to kill me.  Twelve weeks of chemo left me so weak that some days I couldn’t get off the couch to get a glass of water.  The chemo not only ate the cancer, but also destroyed my stomach lining, brought on migraine-like symptoms and damaged the nerves in my fingers and ears.  And all the time…fear.

The strange thing was that it took me years to identify the fear and anxiety that comes before my check-up.  Some years, I would feel it grab me from from behind weeks before.  Other years, it snuck up on me.  But I never saw it coming and then wondered why I was in an emotional funk.

Now, I am able to remind my fear of what I’ve learned because of cancer…because of fear.  I’m not always able to respond clearly.  But now, before a check up, I try to speak these things to my fear.  I tell it what I’ve  learned from cancer…

1.

Freedom from fear is a process.  Some people might be able to defeat fear and never face it again, but not me.  While it’s hold on me is less, I still have to wrestle with my fear!  (If you’re fighting fear, here here are some further thoughts on fighting it.)

2.

I am thankful for going through cancer.  It changed me and gave me so many things that I couldn’t have learned any other way.  And knowing myself better now, I realize I would have run from the pain and suffering so God made me face it head on…

3.

We all die.  I sat next to some amazing people in chemo.  One man was a life-long smoker and had brushed shoulders with the Russian mafia, or so he said.  Another woman was a worship leader and new mom facing breast cancer.  Another man was a life-long farmer newly diagnosed with cancer and you could see the fear in his eyes.  Some survived and some died.  We are all mortal.  Don’t waste your life.  There is bigger story than just your life and you can join that story.  It might mean you get cancer.  It might mean that you son will die, but get in the game for God’s glory.  You are on limited time.

4.

Having your life destroyed will either make you withdraw into your own self or you will learn to  trust God.  We all the desire to control our world, but this is the truth.  YOU CAN’T CONTROL YOUR WORLD.  We are 100% guaranteed suffering in this life and we are promised that God is 100% faithful to meet us there.

5.

I have hope in eternity.  I am looking forward to it.

6.

Facing cancer has deepened my love for others.  I’m crazy selfish and I’m guessing I’m not the only one.  When facing pain, the temptation is to focus even more on yourself.

7.

Cancer helped me know Jesus better.  Before cancer, I tended to love Jesus for what he gave me.  I loved Jesus because a lot of family and friends loved Jesus.  Cancer destroyed that world and taught me to love Jesus for Jesus.  As author Tim Keller writes, “Sometimes God seems to be killing us when he’s actually saving us.”  It’s a life-long process, but he is saving me from myself.  It’s becoming less about me and more about him.

…And all of that will take place in my brain in the space of 15 min.  Because after 15 min, the door will open and my doctor will walk in.  He will asked me the litany of questions…

“How would you rate your pain?  How are your side-effects?  Any more pain in your fingers?”

As he is leaving, I can almost guarantee that he will forgot to tell me about the lab results from my blood work.

But you can’t be too hard on him.  It has been 13 years.

Because of Easter we are in union with Christ and are called to live in our baptismal identity in his resurrection.  This essential theme of Easter cannot be communicated in a day.

-Robert Webber, Ancient-Future Time: Forming Spirituality through the Christian Year (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2004), 148.

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Yes, yes, yes to this quote.  My experience in the evangelical church is that we miss this critical understanding of baptism.  Many times, we reduce baptism to simply a person’s testimony to follow Jesus.  This isn’t a misunderstanding of baptism, but it is a reduction.  And it can make us the hero of the story.  “I want to do this…”

Instead, the church has understood baptism to be a symbol of our death to Satan, sin and self because of the work of Jesus.  The church has also understood it to be a sign of identifying with Christ and his church, the resurrection people.  And, the church has understood baptism to be something that frames the rest of our lives.  We are called to live today in that “baptismal identify”.

How Do You Love Your Neighbor? Die for Them?

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” –Luke 10:27

These are the words of Jesus, but what do they mean for us in our daily lives?  There is no doubt what they meant to Lieutenant-Colonel Arnaud Beltrame.  Beltrame was killed on March 23 in the terrorist attack on a supermarket near Carcassonne.  I don’t know all the details, but he died after having been exchanged for a hostage.  What is deeply moving to me is that this was not only an act of heroism.  It was one of faith.  The chaplain of the gendarmerie was asked about Beltrame.  This is what he said…

It turns out that the lieutenant-colonel was a practicing Catholic.  The fact is that he did not hide his faith, and that he radiated it, he testified.  We can say that his act of offering is consistent with what he believed.  He went to the end of his service to the country and to the end of his testimony of faith.  To believe is not only to adhere to a doctrine.  It is first to love God and his neighbor, and to testify of his faith concretely in everyday life.  In the happy or unhappy, even dramatic circumstances of our lives.  -Father Dominique Arz, national chaplain*

May we take the words of Jesus to heart and love our neighbors like Arnaud Beltrame.

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*Quote and content translated by Google from https://www.famillechretienne.fr/politique-societe/societe/arnaud-beltrame-est-alle-jusqu-au-bout-de-son-temoignage-de-foi-234374